Assassin’s Creed was a phenomenal game when it first came out. Having just finished up with the Prince of Persia Sands Trilogy, Ubisoft Montreal was ready for another action platformer. Prince of Persia helped them cement the fluid movements of free running into a game engine and it was time for that idea to be fleshed out in a free roaming living world. The first time I saw the cinematic trailer at E3 in 2006 I was blown away. The graphics were impressive, and still are actually, and it showcased a lot of promises that it delivered on with the final product. The free running, blending in, physics, AI reactions to both the world and Altair; this game had it all. It also rewarded individual thinking. There was very little hand holding in this game and it always gave you just enough information to stumble through the game but the masterminds could complete the game without being caught and without killing anyone except the targets. While the process to acquire information for each assassination was pedantic, I believe it was looked at in the wrong light.
Many reviews, and fellow gamers, bashed the pick pocketing eavesdropping, interrogation formula because it got in the way of the meat of the game, assassinating. I disagree. To me, the meat of the game is accruing enough information to conduct the perfect kill, no erroneous deaths and no traces. While the path to obtaining said information was repetitive, it was a minor price to pay. While most players did the minimum three missions and proceeded to the assassination, I did every mission to gather as much intel as I could. I wanted to know the targets patterns, where the blind spots were in his security, if there was ever a time he was alone…I would create a plan and attempt to execute it flawlessly. I would stalk the target, watching as all of pieces fell into place. And at the right time, I would swoop in, take his life, and disappear without any knowledge I was there. Yes there was failure along the way and the developers did a great job of giving Altair just enough power to hold his own in a fight. Targets could still be assassinated even if you kicked down the front door killing everyone, and this is one of the titles great accomplishments. It allowed you to be as stealthy as you wanted to be. It catered to all players. Altair isn’t the best in combat and can lose health rather quickly if the player falls out of rhythm of the blocking and attacking(although his Hidden Blade riposte is an instant kill despite its small window for timing).
Playing as Altair, gamers were thrust into the world of the assassins during the 1200’s. Fast forward to the 1400’s and we find Ezio. The Ezio trilogy is a drastic change of pace. Ditching the open ended assassination missions in favor of a guided experience complete with a quasi-Call of Duty hand holding mentality, Assassin’s Creed 2 and its sister games were a complete overhaul of the Assassin’s Creed engine. Currency, weapon types, armor, semi-town building sim, and a stronger emphasis on narrative were key points throughout the Ezio titles. Cutscenes are not a requirement, but the do assist in powerful storytelling. The other side of that coin, though, is the difficulty to include cutscenes outside of a controlled path. Taking a GTA approach, you can do whatever you wish between missions but the missions themselves were pretty linear. Unfortunately, this required them to prune the information gathering aspect and the open ended assassinations. There is still some freedom during the assassinations but I recall too vividly that objective marker indicating for me to perform an action or to move to a location blindly. Rarely did I get to plan anything. While AC1 was an exercise in solving puzzles, AC2 showcased how the series could be turned into a roller coaster ride. Combat took a turn for the worst as Ezio could become a killing machine. Through the new upgrade and inventory systems, he could acquire armor and weapons that could allow him to hold his own in a battle. Where AC1 was brutally punishing, AC2 took a lax approach and allowed the gamer to go on a little power trip.
After this another team within Ubisoft Montreal picked up work on Brotherhood and Revelations, both which could have been glorified expansion packs. Other than training assassins and tower defense they lacked variety from what had been established in Assassin’s Creed 2 already. I can’t say much for AC3 as I haven’t played it yet, but I can say that I am not intrigued. I was extremely hyped for the first two Assassin’s Creed games. The first game came out of nowhere and blew everyone away with its advanced graphics and character motion. The second promised more and better. Being as big of a fan of the first, how could I not get pumped? After that I lost interest. As information gushed out of the internet sometime in 2011, I became disenchanted with the series. While I still love the first game(its in my top 10 games list) I am finding that I am not the target audience anymore(if I ever was in the first place). AC3 lacks vertical terrain, a compelling protagonist, and pretty much anything that made the first game what it was. Ubisoft has just gone on record stating that they will be looking at their roots while making AC4 but I don’t see much change. Supposedly, 40% of all missions will happen on sea, and the side missions will primarily be at sea. While pirates may have used some form of free running to traverse the ships and the were definitely deceptive, I fail to see many similarities between the two. One has class and honor and fights keep the world safe from the greedy hands of the Templar. The other plunders and fights because, well…they are greedy. The ship segments of AC3 where heralded with critical and gamer praise but I fail to see why an entire game should be based off of a distraction. On the positive side, with all of these quick jumps between time periods, Desmond should have his own game soon. Speaking of which, I quite enjoy the story of Desmond, even if I’m the only one. Eventually I will get to playing the 3rd game but I wonder how far I’m willing to go to see the end of Desmond’s journey.